'Hey Siri!' and the need for alternative activation phrases

Update: The Apple Watch is here, which makes "Hey Siri!" even more convenient but can lead to even more collisions. Have your iPhone plugged in and your Apple Watch on, say the magic words, and how do you make sure the one that responds is the one you want?

The problem with "Hey Siri!" is everyone knows those words and every plugged-in iOS 8 device — and now Apple Watch —recognizes them. That leads to inopportune activations — mischievous and accidental alike. Google's "Okay Google Now" tries to learn your voice; if it hears someone else yell the activation phrase, it hopefully ignores it. That's an okay alternative if you're the only one who ever activates your device, you never get a stuffy nose or sore throat, or Kevin Spacey never manages to adequately imitate you. But if you do want your significant other, kids, or other friends or family members to be able to activate your iPhone or iPad, you'll still want magic words to work universally. You might just want different magic words.

If you've ever listened helplessly as an obnoxious podcast host yelled "Hey Siri"; yelled "Hey, seriously?!"; or even legitimately said "Hey Siri" only to have multiple iOS devices respond, you've probably wished for a way to customize Siri's magic words. "Okay Siri," "Yo Siri," "Open Siri Me," "My voice is my passport," "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot," — anything! The ability to set an alternative short phrase to activate Siri would make that feature much, much better.

Perhaps a "Customize 'Hey Siri!'" button could be added to Settings. Tap on it. Say your customized activation phrase. Have Siri show it to you as text and ask you to repeat it again for confirmation. Approve it. And you're good to "Go, go, Siri gadget go!"

If for some reason a purely customizable phrase isn't technologically viable — though given Siri's ability to call users by a custom nickname, it certainly seems in the realm of possibility — I'd settle for at least a half-dozen or so built-in options.

Whether or not Apple ever adds a Moto X-style always-listening coprocessor to the mix (allowing Siri to be voice-activated even when not plugged in), adding the ability to customize or change your activation phrase would help prevent obnoxious podcast hosts, mischief makers, accidental word collisions, and wrong device activations. It'll just work better.

Hopefully Apple can make it happen in iOS 9.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.